“Hidden” and “Unreached” Distinguished

Dr. Ralph Winter wrote a letter to a counterpart of his, another mission history professor, on June 8, 2002. This professor had written a letter to Winter and mentions that he teaches about William Carey, Hudson Taylor, Cameron Townsend, Donald McGavran and Winter himself! His focus regarding Townsend is his language emphasis (translating the Bible into every language) and regarding Winter is his “hidden peoples” emphasis that commenced in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974. Winter responds to this writer by clarifying that in 1974, he does not believe he introduced a concept as new as Townsend and McGavran’s, but rather attempted to clarify the statistical implications of what these men did. He says that McGavran’s perspective directed “missions away from unpenetrated groups toward the fostering of ‘people movements to Christ’ within societies already possessing some sort of breakthrough which he called ‘bridges of God.’” By this term, McGavran is referring to one who has sought and found Christ and worships on the fringe of another group of people distinct from his or her own. Winter points out that this perspective caused McGavran to precisely and logically not advocate the unreached peoples movement for years.

Winter goes on to write that McGavran was a loyal friend to him personally but was doubtful about expending limited mission personnel on completely unapproached groups when groups were already penetrated and needed a discipling to the fringes. Townsend emphasized the practical undertaking of translating the Bible, which is happening among already reached groups, but he also highlighted the plight of groups isolated by language differences. The focus here is not as much on church planting as on getting the Word of God into local languages. Winter desires to clarify for this colleague the meaning of the phrase “hidden peoples.” Being aware of the early thinking about bypassed peoples, Winter feels as though the term “unreached” is a poor choice because of how it has subsequently been used in the phrase “unreached people,” which refers to unconverted individuals. The need in the world, however, is about groups who do not have a viable indigenous evangelizing church movement yet. Winter thinks that World Vision is not wise in their definition of an unreached people either, this being that the group is less than 20% Christian.

Winter explains that the official Lausanne Strategy Working Group-backed definition faced immediate opposition globally on the grounds that the term “Christian” is ambiguous between the two absurd terms nominal or born again. “If ‘nominal,’ then many groups would make it as ‘reached’ which really weren’t, or if ‘born again’ then no group in the world would make it as ‘reached.’” For a brief time, the Strategy Working Group felt the pressure to speak of “born again Christians” and had to revise the percentage down to ten, five, and two. In the meantime, people at the U.S. Center for World Mission employed the term “hidden peoples” in all literature. Early in 1982, Ed Dayton of World Vision approached Dr. Winter with a proposal. If he and his staff accepted the term “unreached peoples” and gave up “hidden,” then World Vision would accept the U.S. Center’s “presence-or-absence-of-the-church” definition and would convene a meeting of mission executives suitably representing their groups to endorse that change. The meeting occurred, Winter confirms, in March of 1982 in Chicago and was sponsored by the Evangelical Fellowship of Mission Agencies and the Lausanne Committee. The change was official and Winter and his group stopped referring to “hidden” peoples although reluctantly because of the inherent disadvantages Winter sees in the word “unreached.”

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